Keep your expectations low, that way you can handle just about everything, and are pleasantly surprised when things turn out better than you thought they would!
Get to the airport early.
For most adults, airports are places to get into and out of as quickly as possible. But you don't want to find yourself running through the airport with car seats, strollers, infants, and carry-ons, just to see the plane take off without you. Trust me on this one! ;-) Allow at least an hour. This should be enough time to check in, deal with any hassles over strollers or car seats, get through security, and catch your breath before you have to get everyone settled on the plane. For the children, the airport might actually be fun!
Use curb-side check-in if it's available.Curb-side check-in has several advantages. First and foremost, you won't have to drag everything through the airport. But staying outside a little longer might also be more entertaining for the kids:
If your airline has a curb-side check-in for baggage USE IT. In our experience this is usually faster than waiting in the check-in line in the terminal, and you're outside where there are lots of things to keep the kids entertained (buses, cars, trucks, airplanes). My kids get really bored and cranky waiting in lines inside the terminal.
Just a reminder: don't forget to take the car seats out of the car if you're planning to check them through! Otherwise, you'll end up carrying them through the airport.
You can purchase tote bags or a small luggage carrier for car seats.
If you will be gate checking your car seats or taking them on board, you'll need a way to get them through the airport. One option is to purchase bags for the seats. You may be able to find cheap duffles, or you can buy bags designed for the purpose.
Another option is to get a small luggage cart:
We got one of those rolling luggage racks and inverted the seats and strapped them together to take onto the plane, so we didn't have to carry them.
Airport luggage carts generally can't go through security.
You may want to use an airline luggage cart to help you through the check-in process. Just be aware that, at least in the US, you'll have to pay for the cart (you'll get a minimal amount back if you return it to the proper spot), and that you usually can't take the carts through security. They're much more useful once you reach your destination.
BEWARE THOSE AIRPORT RENTAL CARTS! We rented one, went 20 feet to security, and had to dump it and couldn't take it through! And they didn't rent them on the other side! What a bummer!
Be prepared to remove the children from strollers or backpacks when going through security.
One of the biggest surprises we faced on our first flight was that we had to take the kids (and all the extra bags) off the stroller and send them through. Usually the staff is very helpful, but it can be a bit difficult to get them through while keeping an eye on all the luggage.
We needed a little extra time for going through the x-ray and metal detector checkpoints. Some places let us keep the kids in the stroller and just checked around them and the seating to make sure nothing was hidden and then they pushed the stroller through a side area. At other places we had to remove the kids and walk them through the metal detector.
Make use of extra time before boarding.
If you have some time to spare, let the kids run around some before the flight. They'll be cooped up in the plane soon enough!
When we get to the gate area we let the kids out to run around and blow off steam before the flight. We hold them up to the windows and let them see all the planes and let them know we'll be on one soon and we'll be able to look at the clouds up close, etc.
Pre-boarding doesn't need to be the whole family!
On airlines that allow pre-boarding for families with small children, keep in mind that you can split up. Have one parent take all the gear on board, while the kids spend the last few minutes of free time stretching their legs.
We flew Southwest, and I did the pre-boarding alone. ( They say "people flying with small children", not that you have to take them on the plane! ) I took the car seats and bags on the plane. I was able to set up the car seats while DH let the girls burn off energy running around the gate. He boarded last, with help from a flight attendant or me.
With connecting flights, go straight to the second gate.
Chances are, you'll want a break between flights. However, you should try to find a spot to relax and stretch your legs as close to the second gate as possible.
Airports are getting so big these days, it can take 45 minutes just to get to the gate! This is especially problematic when switching terminals....
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